Category Archives: Features

A Celebration of Robert Stephenson

Peter Darley of the Camden Railway Heritage Trail introduces us to local industrial heritage.

There had never been a project approaching the size and complexity of the London & Birmingham Railway (L&BR), the first railway authorised to extend into London as far as the New Road (now the Euston Road) for passenger services. Yet Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) was appointed engineer-in-chief for the whole line in September 1833, when not yet thirty.
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In Memoriam: Consuelo Phelan

It is with considerable sadness that the Belsize Society has learnt of the death of Consuelo Phelan. Many members will remember her as a very longstanding committee member who especially loved and cared for the trees and plants of Belsize. She kept a very close eye on all planning applications related to trees, and it is certainly thanks to her efforts that some of our beautiful trees were spared the axe. Members also often saw her at the gates of the garden party or the AGM; she only stood down from the committee at the most recent AGM last March after many years of service. Continue reading

New Book about Belsize: The Harlots of Haverstock Hill 

The drama series “Harlots” features Georgian London’s most valuable commercial activity – sex. Series one and two will be aired back to back on BBC Two from August. Significantly, Belsize had its own Harlots in the 18th century, and this fascinating story is told in the new book by David S Percy, The Harlots of Haverstock Hill.

The Harlots of Haverstock Hill is an account of the remarkable life of “Moll” King, an 18th century madam or brothel-keeper, an ambitious and opportunistic woman who rose from humble beginnings in the streets of London to become one of the first settlers in  Belsize Park. Moll became a wealthy landowner with several properties on Haverstock Hill in the days when there were no more than a handful of houses along this country road to Hampstead. Her legacy remains there to this day.

Bold and opportunistic, Moll King was a woman who mixed with harlots, courtesans and lords of the land, who was painted by Hogarth and defied the norms and restrictions of the day to pursue wealth and success on her own terms. This account of her life, written in part in the first person as she might have recorded it, includes new information and facts which have never before come to light regarding what happened to Moll King’s Belsize houses – especially her villa.

“Moll” King and her Belsize Houses by David S Percy, with a foreword by Dan Cruickshank, will be out on 1 September and available in all Daunt bookshops plus Waterstones, Hampstead, £10.99.

Belsize Air Quality – Questions and Answers

The survey was funded by the Community Infrastructure Levy and Belsize Society was supported by Camden Council’s Air Quality Officers, to whom we owe our thanks. The coronavirus lockdown meant we could not hold the planned public meeting with Camden’s officers to discuss the survey results so instead Tom Parkes, Senior Air Quality Officer, kindly responded to questions submitted by the volunteers: Continue reading

Belsize Park air quality survey – the results are in

Teresa Poole, BelSoc Committee Member who oversaw the pollution monitoring project, writes:

Results from the community air quality monitoring study in Belsize Park / Swiss Cottage show three of our 10 locations breached the annual legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and several other sites experienced high levels during winter months.

(The survey was funded by the Community Infrastructure Levy and Belsize Society was supported by Camden Council’s Air Quality Officers, to whom we owe our thanks. The coronavirus lockdown meant we could not hold the planned public meeting with Camden’s officers to discuss the survey results so instead Tom Parkes, Senior Air Quality Officer, kindly responded to questions submitted by the volunteers and you can find responses here. ) Continue reading

Belsize Society Newsletter: May 2020

Welcome to the Newsletter of the Belsize Society. (The whole pdf of the May Newsletter is here, but you can link to individual articles below.)

This issue of the Newsletter covers some of the activities in the Belsize area, responding to Covid 19. The Hampstead and Kilburn Community Relief Team started in March and has quickly grown to over 300 local residents/volunteers supporting their neighbours and communities. This Newsletter also give details of how to support the Chalk Farm Foodbank, which is currently requesting donations of food and supplies, and the Royal Free Charity. The Charity has been providing vital wellbeing support to front-line workers at The Royal Free Hospital, Barnet Hospital and Chase Farm Hospital. Continue reading

Essay: The Broader Perspective

We asked writer and philosopher Alain de Botton for something to inspire us in these difficult and unusual times.

At some point in the 1650s, the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal jotted down one of the most counterintuitive aphorisms of all time: ‘The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he cannot stay quietly in his room.’

Really? Surely having to stay quietly in one’s room must be the beginning of a particularly evolved kind of psychological torture? What could be more opposed to the human spirit than to have to inhabit four walls when, potentially, there would be a whole planet to explore?

And yet Pascal’s idea usefully challenges one of our most cherished beliefs: that we must always go to new places in order to feel and discover new and worthwhile things. What if, in fact, there were already a treasury inside us? What if we had within our own brains already accumulated a sufficient number of awe-inspiring, calming and interesting experiences to last us ten lifetimes? What if our real problem was not so much that we are not allowed to go anywhere – but that we don’t how to make the most of what is already to hand? Continue reading

Belsize poetry

We asked Belsize poet Robert Ilson for some reflective words in the age of lockdown. Here is what he sent us (originally published in Ham & High in April).

At Liberty

If you step into the World today
Remember to use your eyes
To grasp the myriad shapes and hues
Of earth and trees and skies
And should you in a thoroughfare
See someone smile at you
Recall that to return a smile
Is perfectly legal too
And when your path brings you back home
Your freshened memory
Will keep you in good spirits till
We’re all at liberty!

Notable Trees in Belsize Park

A local tree expert and BelSoc member writes: Belsize Park has more different tree species than most people realise, ranging from native to quite exotic trees. The traditional planting consists mainly of London Plane trees, Lime trees, Maples and Ash and we can still see magnificent large old trees in some of our local streets.  Nowadays, many councils adopt a different planting regime; they favour smaller spring-flowering trees such as cultivars of Hawthorn, Cherry, Apple, Pear and Juneberry.  Due to climate change, there is, however, also a trend to increasingly diversify and plant more exotic trees from further afield in our streets. Continue reading

WAC Arts and Hampstead Town Hall

Members may recall that over the years Belsize Residents’ Association made a number of donations to the WAC Arts organisation, based in the old Hampstead Town Hall on Haverstock Hill. In 2019 BelSoc continued this with a further donation of £200. For members unaware of the organisation’s work, we thought some account of its history and activities might be welcome, particularly in view of its intention to carry out some building work within the Town Hall. As you may know, the Town Hall is a Grade II listed building. BelSoc now has as one of its charitable objectives to promote high standards of architecture, conservation, planning, design and use of buildings in Belsize Ward, and to promote the protection, development and improvement of features of historic interest in the area. So it will be part of our responsibility to take an interest if significant changes of this kind are planned. Continue reading